April 1 – May 24, 2024

8-Week Catholic Storytelling Workshop with Nick Ripatrazone

April 1 - May 24, 2024
Class size: limited to 12 students
Cost: $250

Sponsored by the Jesuit Conference’s Office of Communications and Vocation Promotion

First you look for discipline and control. You want to exercise your will, bend the language your way, bend the world your way. You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger. The best moments involve a loss of control. It’s a kind of rapture, and it can happen with words and phrases fairly often—completely surprising combinations that make a higher kind of sense, that come to you out of nowhere.” — Don DeLillo

“If there were no sins, there wouldn’t be art.” — spoken by a priest to Andre Dubus

The Catholic storytelling tradition is rich and diverse, a storytelling tradition that is steeped in the wisdom of the past and is very much alive in the contemporary world. Writers are forged in many furnaces, but Catholic writers often arise from the synthesis of folk piety and the valorization of language. Catholic Mass is a spectacle of sound, smell and story; whether delivered in Latin or the vernacular, Mass is a performance. Don DeLillo has described it as theatrical, a sensibility shared by Toni Morrison. For many writers, it is the elegance and elevation of language during Mass that is their entry point toward the stylized writing of literature. We will consider how these writers see and encounter the world in a Catholic way.

In this course, you will learn how to effectively engage with Catholic storytelling as readers, thinkers and writers; to observe how close reading and attention are spiritual actions. We will read poetry, short nonfiction, and fiction and view film excerpts. We will engage in creative analysis and reflection and write both critically and creatively. Your writing will be shared with our group through workshop; you will receive peer response and instructor feedback. These workshops are meant to encourage you to write for the wider world, as revised material from this course might be pitched for publication on Jesuits.org.

Our course will run asynchronously online on the Wet Ink writing and workshop platform, which was designed for online instruction. Each week we’ll start with a posted lesson that prompts reflection through a narrative lecture focused on the topics and themes of that week, as well as course readings and viewings. You will complete short exercises and participate in discussion forms. As a way to cultivate community, you may participate in two informal and optional Zoom meetings.

There are no books to buy or materials to purchase. All coursework will be provided and posted through the WetInk program.

Week 1: Catholic Storytelling
Narrative Lecture: Close Reading as a Catholic Action
Readings: “A Stay Against Confusion” by Ron Hansen
“Mariette in Ecstasy” by Ron Hansen (excerpt)
Exercises: Formative reading experience(s) (short narrative)

Week 2: Catholic Storytelling
Narrative Lecture: How Catholics Tell Stories
Readings: “Being a Writer, Being Catholic” by Valerie Sayers
“Confessions of a Reluctant Catholic” by Alice McDermott (excerpt)
Exercises: Writing statement (short narrative in tradition of “Why I Write” by Terry Tempest Williams)

Week 3: Poetry
Narrative Lecture: Reading Poetry: God, Mystery, and Meaning
Readings: “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
“Descending Theology: Christ Human,” “Descending Theology: The Garden,” and “Descending Theology: “The Resurrection” by Mary Karr
Exercises: “Linger on a line” — select a line from one of the Karr poems and reflect on how it anchors the full poem (short narrative)

Week 4: Poetry
Narrative Lecture: How a Poem Happens + Introduction to Workshop
Readings: “The Raising of Lazarus” and “Rosary” by Franz Wright
“Theology Descending: Franz Wright and Mary Karr in Conversation” (excerpt)
“Finding the Lego” by Maryann Corbett (and interview)
Exercises: Poem draft and process narrative (workshop)

Week 5: Fiction
Narrative Lecture: Religious Writers and Morality
Readings: “The Reason for Stories” by Robert Stone (excerpts)
“A Father’s Story” by Andre Dubus
Exercises: Engaging Dubus via Stone: morality in fiction (short narrative)

Week 6: Fiction
Narrative Lecture: The Catholic Imagination
Readings: “The Lesser Angels of Fiction: Setting and Time” by Tom Bailey (“On Writing Short Stories” — excerpts)
“Illuminations” by Alice McDermott
Exercises: Fictional scene draft and process narrative (workshop)

Week 7: Film
Narrative Lecture: “There’s No Way Out of It”: Catholic Filmmaking
Readings/Viewings: “The Crowd at the Cinematograph” by Jules Romains
“Why There is Good in The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty
Cinefantastique interview with Jason Miller (excerpts)
Scenes from “The Exorcist”
Exercises: Character analysis of Father Karras (Jason Miller) (short narrative)

Week 8: Conclusions
Narrative Lecture: Writing as a Catholic
Readings: “Sacraments” by Andre Dubus
Exercises: Storytelling as a spiritual and sacramental act (narrative) (workshop)

Nick Ripatrazone is an author, editor, writer and teacher. His new book, “The Habit of Poetry: The Literary Lives of Nuns in Midcentury America,” is the story behind a midcentury renaissance of nuns and sisters who wrote poetry (Fortress Press 2023).

His other recent books include “Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction” and “Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness,” both from Broadleaf Books, and “Digital Communion: Marshall McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age,” from Fortress Press.

Nick is the culture editor for Image Journal, a quarterly magazine that seeks to publish the best writing and artwork informed by or grappling with religious faith.

He has written regular columns for Literary Hub and The Millions about literary magazines, teaching and poetry.

Nick has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Esquire, Outside, The Sewanee Review, America, Commonweal, The Christian Century, Christianity Today, The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Poetry Foundation, the Catholic Herald (UK) and elsewhere.

The instructor will provide links to the assigned reading material; you will not need to buy any books for this class.

The class will proceed asynchronously via the user-friendly online Wet Ink platform, allowing you to complete the assignments on your own schedule. Interactions and feedback with Jon and your peers will also take place within Wet Ink.

A new lesson will be posted with a written “craft talk” on that week’s topic each Monday for eight weeks. There will also be two informal, optional Zoom meetings during the eight weeks of class.

Wet Ink was designed specifically for online writing classes. Wet Ink is private, easy to use and interactive. Learn more about Wet Ink by watching a class demo.

Sponsored by the Jesuit Conference’s Office of Communications and Vocation Promotion
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Jesuit Conference’s communications team serves as a hub for creators rooted in the Ignatian tradition. It is our hope that participants in this course will build community with each other and with our team. You will also have the opportunity, if you like, to pitch material you generate in the course for publication on Jesuits.org.


If you’re interested in the course but the enrollment fee poses a financial hardship, email Mike Jordan Laskey at jccucommunications@jesuits.org. You can also email Mike with any general questions about the course.

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The "8-Week Catholic Storytelling Workshop with Nick Ripatrazone" course is full.

Contributed by:

Nick Ripatrazone is a writer, editor and teacher. He is the culture editor for Image Journal and a contributing editor for the Catholic Herald (UK).